Monday, September 19, 2016
On the day of Pentecost, Peter and the others walked from the church’s upper room apartment to their just completed, magnificent church building. The contractor had surrender the keys to Peter on the Friday before the Sabbath. The edifice was as spacious as any mega-church building in the twenty-first century. The sanctuary would easily accommodate 12,000 people. Their rec room contained an oversized Olympic swimming pool that would allow over 3,000 people at once. It would all be needed on that special dedication day (Acts 2:1-41)!
On that remarkable Sunday the sanctuary was filled past capacity. The size of this new construction and their magnificent church street sign out front had caught the attention of the city. At least a thousand people could not find seating but stood around the walls. Thankfully the Fire Marshall was a member and looked the other way! 108 of the 120 formed the first choir. The twelve apostles sat in huge, padded chairs facing the audience. Peter rose to speak and immediately stirred the crowd with his eloquence. In the middle of his lesson an exuberant individual shouted out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Peter instructed him and others to “Repent and be immersed in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins and there would be a reception of the gift of the Holy Spirit to follow.” Since he was not finished with his sermon, he continued from his notes. Finally, when completed, an invitation was offered, four verses of what was described as an invitation song was sung, and about three thousand responded! The assembly was dismissed with about 10,000 exiting.
The response created a flurry of questions among the 120. There weren’t enough baptismal garments available to handle that many responses. A hundred maybe, but not 3,000! They only had 3 waders. How could 3 apostles handle such a crowd? Which 3 would it be? What would they do? Matthew suggested that everyone go home, retrieve some “everyday clothing,” return, and they would be immersed. They must “hurry” because time was wasting! Waders were forgotten. The ones doing the baptizing would have the honor of getting wet for Jesus! They could later send their wet suits to the dry cleaners.
About an hour later everyone was back with street clothes in hand. They met in the rec room. The men were sent to one classroom to change out of their Sunday best, while the women to another. Finally, all returned, ready to be immersed. All respondents entered the enormous pool. A buzz of questions went through the 120. How long would it take the 12 to immerse 3,000? Peter suggested that all of them do the immersing, 120 at a time. Two main objections popped up! First, women could not culturally immerse the men because it would be inappropriate for a female to touch a man who was not her husband. Bartholomew quickly suggested that women immerse only the female candidates. There was total agreement. Second, only the apostles were “ordained,” and only the ordained could baptize for the baptisms to be valid. Silence enveloped them. It was broken by Andrew. “When did the Spirit limit the administering of immersion to only the apostles?” 120 reflected. Finally, Thomas spoke up. “He hasn’t! Immersing candidates is not limited to a specific, special clergy.” It was the first time the term “clergy” was introduced.
As the 120 started to immerse, Thaddeus asked, “Aren’t we supposed to say something sacramental prior to the immersion?” Simon asked, “What does that mean?”! Joseph Barsabbas chimed in, “What would this sacramental dialogue be?” Peter replied, “I’ve already told the 3,000 what to do and the purpose. Nothing more needs to be said.” Philip questioned, “It just doesn’t seem right, does it, to not add something to give it a ‘gospel feel’?” Matthew added, “Gospel feel or not, I’m going to repeat part of what Peter said, ‘I baptize you in the name of Jesus, for the remission of your sins and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” Bartholomew chimed in, “I’m going to say the same thing, but add what Jesus did, ‘in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit’!” That difference would later cause debate! The Zealot chimed in with a question, “How do we immerse? Do we push them straight down, lay them over backwards, or forwards, or just let them sit?” Matthias spoke up, “Jesus was carried by two men and placed in the tomb and then the stone was rolled in place. If we’re buried with Jesus into his death, shouldn’t two people take a candidate by the arms and feet and lower them into the water?” After some discussion, it was decided that each baptizer immerse in whatever way was easier for him. So, they continued, although the two people system was a slowing factor, not as functional as one person immersing another.
“Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41).
No, it didn’t develop as I have worded it above. My purpose? To show that we often insert our modern way of seeing and doing things into scripture rather than seeing it from their perspective. How many read Acts 2 and assume that Peter gave a modern invitation at the end of his sermon, the audience sang an invitation song, people who responded stepped out from their pew and walked to the front of the audience, in unison made their confession while facing those who were seated, went to their respective dressing rooms and changed, then stepped down into the baptistery when called, were immersed, and then walked out the other side as another followed to be baptized? How many see Peter holding up his right hand prior to the immersion and repeating a familiar dialogue as if it was “written,” then immersing that person?
Verse 41 says “the same day.” Peter started his sermon around 9 am. Let’s say he preached until 11 am. Let’s assume the immersions began at 12 noon. How long did it take and where were these 3,000 folks immersed? When did they finish? Did the Pharisees and Sadducees resist their efforts if they used the public water cisterns? If it took 20 seconds to immerse one person and 120 disciples immersed 120 people in that time frame, how long did it take to finish with 3,000? Did they start with the oldest individuals, just in case? If each immersed individual was added to that 120 to help baptize others, it would have moved a lot faster. Did they? How was it organized? Was there any confusion? Did the Holy Spirit give them a plan of action? Luke doesn’t say. One thing is revealed. That first “assembly” was unlike any you will find today!